African Languages, Development and the State

By Richard Fardon; Graham Furniss | Go to book overview

9

Dismantling the Tower of Babel

In search of a new language policy for a post-Apartheid South Africa

Nhlanhla P. Maake

This paper addresses the problems of language in relation to development and government policy in South Africa, where there is now an urgent need, coupled with other social, political and economic needs, for a new language policy, especially given the history of that country, where the domination of one group over others has had far-reaching implications for African languages and cultures.

My purpose is not to set out the history of language politics in South Africa, fascinating as that history is, especially the rise of the Afrikaans culture, language and state, Afrikanerdom, from a defensive position at the turn of the nineteenth century to an imperial posture from the middle of the twentieth century. My bias here is to look towards the future rather than the past, though in South Africa more than in many places the present can only be fully understood in the context of current historical legacies.


LANGUAGE DISTRIBUTION

In South Africa the question of the role and place of African languages is an urgent one. Some of the views which have been expressed with regard to other parts of Africa by neo-conservatives who want to return to African languages on the one hand, and ‘progressives’ who want to intensify the use of the languages of Europe on the other, are not appropriate to South Africa/Azania’s unique position.

I wish to link my discussion to two representations of ‘language’. The first is taken from the Old Testament, to illustrate how differences of language can be used to divide people, and the second is drawn from the New Testament, illustrating how language can be used in a constructive way for the general good.

It has been suggested by observers that Africans in South Africa/ Azania have a negative attitude towards their languages because these languages enforce division between different ethnic or tribal groups, and

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